Pakistan and America – The Stalemate Continues
by Stephen Schwartz
In American media and public opinion, all eyes are focused on the stalemate in Washington over the federal finances. President Barack Obama and his Democratic supporters seem unable to agree with the Republicans in the House of Representatives on a new budget before 2 August, when, we are told, the U.S. government may default on its obligations for the first time in the country's history. The consequences of such a failure could be disastrous for the whole world's economy. Still, numerous Americans suspect both sides in the budget battle are engaged in an elaborate and potentially dangerous, yet mainly theatrical, exercise in political competition.
But the political deadlock over the federal budget is not the only impasse bedeviling America. The U.S. has reached a critical point in its relations with Pakistan. The problem of radical Islam within the Islamabad government, its military, and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was dramatized anew with the bombings in Mumbai on 13 July. Moderate Muslims, as well as non-Muslim observers in the U.S., India, and elsewhere, now look to Pakistan as the first suspect in South Asian Islamist terrorism.
The Mumbai atrocities came in the aftermath of the assassination in Afghanistan on 12 July of Ahmed Wali Karzai, half-brother of Afghan president Hamid Karzai. The funeral of Ahmed Wali Karzai in a Kandahar mosque was devastated by a suicide bomb attack on Thursday, 14 July, in which four participants were killed, including the leading Kandahar cleric, Maulvi Hekmatullah Hekmat.
On the previous weekend, the U.S. government announced a cutoff of $800 million in aid to the Pakistani military establishment. Admiral Mike Mullen, head of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, had previously expressed Washington's concern that the ISI was complicit in the 29 May murder of journalist Saleem Shahzad. The courageous Shahzad, an exemplary representative of his (and my) profession, wrote for publications and websites with diverse viewpoints and cultivated contacts in all sectors of society, including Islamist cadres – as is the proper function of journalists. He had published an alarming report on Al-Qaida influence in the Pakistani Navy. Shahzad was abducted and his body dumped in the Punjab.
The ridiculous Pakistan government huffs and puffs and claims it will fully investigate the murder of Shahzad, protesting that Mullen's remarks were offensive to Pakistani sovereignty and declaiming that the military aid cutoff will not deter Pakistan from fighting Al-Qaida and the Taliban. But all such rhetoric from the regime of Asif Ali Zardari is now perceived as empty. The government that could not efficiently investigate the murder of Zardari's wife, Benazir Bhutto, cannot pretend seriously that it will punish the killers of a journalist. As the saying has it, he who pays the piper calls the tune, and the U.S., represented by Adm. Mullen, has subsidized the Pakistani piper for too long, and now has a right to an accounting. Finally, Pakistan cannot claim to continue a struggle against radical Islam in which its military authorities are, to put it bluntly, on the enemy side.
In the worst aspect of the U.S.-Pakistan standoff, it is widely accepted that Islamabad considers U.S. operation to terminate the career of Osama Bin Laden – a publicly stated aim of American policy for the nearly ten years since 11 September 2001 – a violation of its sovereignty if not an explicitly hostile act. Pakistan sheltered Bin Laden as openly as Serbia protected the accused war criminal Ratko Mladic, and every Pakistani and non-Pakistani with links to Pakistani Muslims knew Islamabad had undertaken to do so.
The idiom employed by Pakistani politicians in dealing with the Bin Laden case is repellent; they are disappointed that their air force failed to shoot down U.S. helicopters and prevent American commandos from liquidating the terrorist chief.
Is pipsqueak Pakistan, even armed with nuclear weapons, prepared for a prolonged phase of hostility to Washington? One would think not. Rather, Pakistan will most likely reinforce its alignment with the totalitarian Beijing regime, maintain its hostility to India over Kashmir and Afghanistan (in the latter case Islamabad accuses New Delhi of "meddling"), and simply continue the masquerade of commitment to the anti-terror struggle.
Then – most certainly if U.S. troops are removed from Afghanistan in a precipitate manner – Kabul will be retaken by the Taliban and Al-Qaida, the "deep state" inside the ISI and other Pakistani military sectors that supports the extremists will emerge, Pakistan may fail completely, and the world will be faced with a nuclear-armed Taliban regime. Muslims in Pakistan warn that the country has already slid into chaos.
Pakistan today resembles Saudi Arabia directly after the horror of 11 September 2001. Pakistan, like Saudi Arabia then, prefers to swim in denial (a river in South Asia, not Egypt), than to face up to its internal contradictions. But the Saudi kingdom, long considered an irreplaceable and trustworthy U.S. ally, was deeply shaken by revelation of the involvement of 15 Saudi subjects among the 19 terrorists who hijacked civilian airliners and attacked lower Manhattan and the Pentagon, with one captured jet brought down by passenger action in Pennsylvania. Soon, for the first time, the role of the Wahhabi sect, the official Saudi interpretation of Islam and the ideological partner of the monarchy, as well as the inspirer of Al-Qaida, was subjected to global scrutiny.
Saudis, including then-Crown Prince Abdullah ibn Abd al-Aziz al Sa'ud, understood that to reestablish a partnership of confidence with the U.S., changes were necessary in the kingdom. And once he was elevated to the royal throne in 2005, King Abdullah began a consequential effort to introduce new attitudes. His progress has been slow, given his isolation as an inspired reformer within the royal family, and the entrenchment of the Wahhabi clerics. But the transformation of Saudi Arabia is real.
Pakistan, unfortunately, has had no moment of self-examination comparable to that seen in Saudi Arabia, and has no leader comparable to King Abdullah. Rather, in a stereotypical manner, Pakistani politicians continue to squirm and spout, with elaborate excuses offered to calm their foreign critics. They particularly blame America for the situation they created themselves. Muslim clerics, including traditionalist Barelvis, Sufis, and Shias who are threatened by the radicals, attempt consistently to shift responsibility for their plight to the U.S. Hatred of America is a Pakistani addiction as powerful as its dependence on hostility to India.
Unfortunately for the infamous intentions of the Pakistani misrulers, America is no longer willing to accept the charade. Pakistan must be prepared for a double dose of condemnation from Washington. If there is one thing that unites the hardliners on both sides of the U.S. Congressional aisle, who have shown their penchant for tough tactics over the budget, it is disgust with the Pakistani spectacle. Defense-minded Democrats and neoconservative Republicans may, once they have settled the financial crisis, find a new unity in facing down Islamabad.
Pakistan long ago betrayed the noble visions of Allama Muhammad Iqbal and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Pakistan is supposed to mean "the land of the pure," but in the hands of its fanatical clerics, corrupted military, and heedless feudal class, it has become a land of untruth, terror, and provincial division. Pakistani military boss Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who has reviled the U.S. for removing Bin Laden, may declare martial law. But that would not restore the favor of Islamabad in Washington. Indeed, it should make the situation worse.